A quickly receding land

My partner hates it if I fall to sleep before he’s gotten into bed, so I’ve started doing world building things in a journal whilst I wait.

Barren Lands

2,600 miles of roasting desert. It continues further north, but this is the furthest anyone has return from. The came back with stories of populous families of sandworms, vastly more than ever imagined. Presumably, it’s them that churn and digest the land and turn it all to sand. Giant insects have evolved to be light enough to not disturb them. Fire Wyrmlings grow too numerous to reach adulthood, such is their cruelty in their youth.

Duck Patrol

The ducks are huge creatures obsessed with pushing back the sand, northwards. They’re doing a surprisingly good job. Their flat feet do not summon the worms.

They are frequently poached. The Loyal Kindred protect them as best they can, but they have limited resources.

Gywin’s Scar

The wizards of Dirnt had an idea to repel the Barrens and it went badly.

It’s now the perfect home for climbing creatures, and one last expelled family from The Dales.

Loyal Kindred Of Lucian

They believe their god still lives, despite their obvious demise. Magic is powerful here, but not for the reasons they think.

The city is slowly diminishing as they pour resources into holding back the Barrens and appearing strong, avoiding war.

The Lick

The Sopp takes more land each year. These peaceful people had no choice but war when their request for asylum was denied from their neighbours. The choice was the fight to the death or die standing still.

Hapal Kingdom

Shrinking each day from war which they appear to be losing. A recent leadership change might bring peace, but it is not likely. They worship and endeavour to wake the elephantine gods. No one else wants this.

Hapal’s Loss

One farmlands, now salted earth. Thousands of people had to relocate to the “mainland” of the Kingdom.

Plaguelocked city of the Dirnt

They revel in their plague and the gifts it gives them: a sleepless life where the gods can’t peer into their thoughts. They are bat shit crazy and would gladly infect the world. The surrounding countries do all they can to keep them inside.

Vassel

The hierophant lives here, and she is adored by everyone. They all need her whispers from the gods. They’re all waiting for her to convince the gods to halt the Barrens and/or encroaching Sopp.

All countries donated land to her. They all kneel to those in her white robes.

The hierophant has not shared this knowledge, but they have developed technology to stay afloat in The Sopp.

Sinder

The fire tribes whose culture revolve around growth and burning. They claim all the land the fires take, and the other druidic tribes shrug and accept it. Why argue? Some years, Sinder is tiny.

They’re very careful to not let the fires stretch to Vassel.

Wet Ditch

The water druids do not like the taint of The Sopp. They build huge dams and fill their southern-most lakes with concrete and tar to slow The Sopp’s spread. It is not working.

The lakes of the water druids are the most beautiful scenery of any in all the lands.

The Dales

The forest druids. They’re forced to fell their own trees to slow the spread of Sinder. The oldest trees they have are thousands of years old, and their power stems straight from the ever living earth.

They will not fight Sinder, but would not mourn their loss.

Carth

We are rot. Breath in The Sopp and let it reign.

The Sopp has done something to them. They all hear each other over great distances.

They fight against the barren god though have no idea what it is. In a choice between desert and swampland, there’s only one choice, surely.

The Sopp

Mulched earth, rotten to the core. No foundations can be laid. Some creatures have learnt to survive it. One day, they may be all that is left.

Molton clay will often bubble up here and resolidify on the surface. This clay is perfect for homunculus.

Five pointed star faction system

signature scrap princess art ^

scrap was talking about the idea of friends-and-foes, inspired by the MtG colour pie. It’s not something I’d heard of before, and not actually something I’ve done a tonne of research on. (I had a pretty good green-blue Cagebreakers deck back in the day, and I’m not sure how that fits with the colour pie theme.)

What I did like was the idea of using two-friends and two-foes as a framework for factions. Unrestrained creativity can sometimes be exhausting, but wrap a constraint around a thing and suddenly some sort of internal logic starts to appear.

I’m still hoping to make The Rest a fun writing project that people do. Maybe it’ll be fun to take five cards at random and fit them into this structure (which scrap called “five point star faction system”).

Five randomly drawn cards:

  • Strength.
  • The Chariot.
  • The World.
  • The Magician.
  • The Tower.

(Strength; endurance.) Ilwater was better known as The City of Water less than a generation ago, but the siege against it has all but dried up its last wells. News stopped travelling out of their a year or so again. Their numbers have fallen into the hundreds much down from the flurishing streets of yesteryear. The Waterfolk inside still man the walls. They still watch the gates. They still tend to the animals they have left. Whilst some think it’s just a matter of time before the walls crumble against the invader’s machines, there’s no doubt that the Waterfolk will fight til their last.

(The Chariot; aid to warriors.) Ilwater is not alone. The Petty Prince, though expeled from their own country, still has his spies. His might is not as it once was, but what he lacks in an army he more than makes up for it in poisons – curses of drink and of ear – which can cripple an enemy just as well. So long as Illwater stands there’s a chance he can regain his seat and his mistakes forgotten. But, when all is said and done, and the war for the small but holy town is won, he needs it to fall at his feet, and not his sisters’.

(World; as old as time.) The Merchants of Ultima see Ilwater as their last uncollected waypoint to the east. Going around it takes weeks and going through it was impossible whilst its inhabitants worshipped at their ridiculous, puritanical church of Ilmater. The war so far had cost them greatly, but the Merchants could endure for much longer, certainly longer than those pestilant fools inside.

(Magician; unnatural power over something.) Since Ilmater had turned on the Sighted Elders, and refused to offer any help to their cause, the Elders were more than happy to join the Merchants in their crusade. If they should win, Ilmater would be crippled by the loss of his major temple, or else be forced to crawl back to the other gods and beg to rejoin. No one would go to war without the knowledge that the Elders could provide – gossip and thoughts directly from the gods – and so the Merchants entered into this unlikely coalition.

(Tower; bringer of doom.) There are four royal sisters, who in their mother’s illness have wrestled control of the country and ousted their brother. The Queen would never have stood against the Merchants, but the sisters are not quite a like their mother, yet even they are smart enough to not openly fight the Merchants. Instead, they aim to move Ilmater’s holy site, in secret. Then the Merchants can do what they like with the town. Their good allies, the Elders, will be more than happy with a slightly less powerful Ilmater rocking the boat.

It’s difficult to find ways for allies to be friends with their friends’ enemies.

Highlights of some of the relationships:

Royal Sisters and Petty Prince: The Prince was the intended heir but his politics of giving his friends more power didn’t sit well with them. They’re unsure if he’s dead or not, to be quite honest.

Petty Prince and the Merchants: Supposed allies. The Merchants stand to gain a lot by the Prince being in power. They both overestimate they can manipulate the other. However, if Ilwater was to fall it would be the last nail in his political coffin. If the Merchants insist it falls, it must happen in exactly the way the Prince intends it to.

Ilwater and the Sighted Elders: The Elders have the gods by the balls – literally in some cases. They’ve successfully tracked down and captured many relics of the gods which act as their physical anchor to the Material Plane. The Elders, whose only desire is control, became enraged when Ilmater’s relic was stolen. If he’s not with them, then he is against them, and his temples must fall.

The Rest; a tarot cast.

For whatever reason tarot cards have been following me around a lot more than they should be. Between Cyberpunk 2077 (which I’m playing just fine on my eight year old PC) and Troubled Blood (by Robert Galbraith, which I just finished reading) every piece of media I’m consuming is meddling with it.

Today I wrote this eight page cast of characters.

I know nothing about tarot. I’ve been thinking about Demon City (and when it will be ready, my gosh) and how I may need a tarot set to play that with. I went to a Waterstones and there were dozens of different kinds. In the end, I didn’t get any because I didn’t know what the differences were. I mention this just to show that I know little about tarot. Whilst writing this, I had Wikipedia open and that’s the extent of my research now. I took heavy inspiration from the cards, but am not trying to acurately represent them.

Anyway, I had quite a lot of fun writing this. I’ve bashed this out today, on a lovely, homebound Sunday. This blog doesn’t have a very wide readership, so I’m not expecting anything of it, but if anyone else wants to get on board with building a world based around the 22 Major Arcana (slipping in the Minor if you’re up to it), then I’d read the shit out of it.

I was using a list of old British names, if anyone’s curious about the weird spellings.

Page layout and single page encounters

I want to write an interesting encounter – an antithesis of “roll on this table for a random encounter”. My problem with those kinds of encounters is that they often have very little imagination to them, and by their nature the DM can’t prep for them to add more colour. I know they gap they’re trying to fill: sometimes players dawdle and if they hang around the forest or make too much noise in a dungeon, something should turn up to teach them a lesson and get them moving.

I don’t think that problem needs to be solved by having a table to roll on which says “3 bears, 2 liches.” Why can’t there just be half a dozen generic, but well thought out, encounters at the back of the adventure?

I’ve been working on writing one of those. Laying it out on an A5 page is tricky though.

I’ve got one page of text which the DM should read at their leisure, explaining the environment. And then the cast list for the combat. The idea is that this is all they need open for the encounter, and can doodle on the page as needed.

I’ve only managed to fit 4 of the bad guys on this, so it doesn’t really scale. As I’m writing this, it occures to me that I’ll actually have two pages of A5 content I can fill for the DM to see at once.

Here’s the aims:

  • Give the bad guys descriptions. If you’re playing theatre of the mind this is super important, but hard to think up something unique on the spot. I promise your players will refer to them by their descriptions rather than “the one I just hit” or “which one is closer again?”.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: fleshless mobs. The goblin has a locket around his neck and suddenly you’ve got the players thinking of his loved ones back home.
  • Give the bad guys tactics. Read their actions from top to bottom on their turn. Do the top most possible one, skipping if it sounds boring right now. This gives them a personality which the players can come to expect during the fight.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: The bad guy has a d4 dagger and a d6 shortsword. Why would you ever chose the dagger? Many creatures in the MM have redundant weapons, leaving them as one-trick ponies.
  • Initiative has already been rolled. It was random, trust me. Just pencil in the characters around.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: Why bother rolling for this at the table? It takes ages to do this, meanwhile your players are already yelling their initiative at you.
  • Fleeing should be at the front of the DM’s mind.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: Why does ever bad guy fight to the death? How often to bar fights end up with body bags? At some point, even in a war people give up. The bad guys here must have a limit of some kind. The flee condition turns the end of the battle from a slog to a race, before they get away.
  • Loot is relevant, more interesting than just money, and already written down.
    • Problem I’m trying to solve: “Can I loot the corpses?” “Uh, sure. They’re got shitty clothes and weapons that aren’t worth taking… They’ve got six gold though, I guess.”